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Last Updated: Tuesday, 8 January 2008, 13:18 GMT
48,000 expats 'get fuel benefit'
Holidaymaker in Benidorm
Spain is the most popular European country for Brits to move to
Nearly 48,000 Britons living abroad, even in sunnier climes, are receiving at least 8.2m in winter fuel payments, a Cambridgeshire man has discovered.

Brian Lake, from Warboys, obtained the data under the Freedom of Information Act and described it as an "outrage".

The 200 Winter Fuel Allowance is paid annually to people over 60. Those over 80 can get up to 100 more but younger disabled people are not eligible.

The government said the payments were mandatory under European law.

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "European law dictates that benefits acquired in one member state have to be paid to people who then move to another.

"If you qualified before you went to Spain, or wherever, we have to carry on paying it."

He said that pensioners who split their year between the UK and another country would also still receive payments even if they spent the entire winter abroad.

'Sometimes colder'

Anyone wishing to claim Winter Fuel Allowance must qualify when they are resident in the UK.

They must register by mid-September in order to receive payments for the following winter.

The winter here is just as cold as in Shropshire where I used to live
John Marlow
Melleran, France

However, once qualified, they can continue to receive it if, in future years, they move abroad to another European Economic Area (EEA) country or Switzerland.

John Marlow is 71 and moved to Melleran, western France after he retired. He says he has paid into the system and is therefore entitled to the payments he receives.

"The winter here is just as cold as in Shropshire where I used to live, sometimes colder," Mr Marlow told the BBC News website.

"The payment does help - it probably covers about a month and a half of fuel for me - and I'd have to find that money from somewhere else if I didn't get it."

But Britons who left the UK before turning 60 are not eligible because they emigrated before being able to qualify.

Chris Bradley was 58 when he moved to Hogebeintum in the Netherlands and believes it is unfair he that he cannot receive the allowance.

"I have paid my tax and insurance since 1956 and I still have to pay UK tax on my UK pension," he told the BBC News website.

"But because I left the UK a short time before I was 60, I don't get the winter fuel payments, despite the weather here being normally considerably colder than in the UK."

Holiday islands

The EEA is made up of all 25 EU countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway.

As well as the sunny climes of countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece, this also includes overseas European territories, including the Canary Islands and tropical French territories such as Martinique, in the Caribbean, and Reunion, in the Indian Ocean.

The Institute for Public Policy Research estimates at least 5.5 million British citizens are living permanently overseas and a further 500,000 live abroad for part of the year.

The most popular country in Europe is Spain, with more than 760,000 British residents.

Fuel allowances campaigner dies
20 Jun 07 |  Nottinghamshire
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14 Sep 02 |  Moneybox
Anger at ex-pat heating cash
14 Sep 02 |  UK Politics

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